Policy ForumEnvironment

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on U.S. Floodplains

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Science  08 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5719, pp. 207-208
DOI: 10.1126/science.1108411

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The Midwestern flood of 1993 was a milestone, breaking flow records along 1600 km of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and causing $12 to $16 billion in damages. Since 1993, there has been a widespread perception that the flood caused a fundamental shift in U.S. policies toward flood mitigation and floodplain management. New emphases on flood-damage prevention included widely publicized FEMA buyouts of floodplain properties. In Illinois and Missouri, 8700 properties were acquired at a cost of $56.3 million, but these buyouts are now being massively counterbalanced by new construction on U.S. floodplains. The epicenter of this recent rush onto the floodplain is the St. Louis metropolitan region, with $2.2 billion in new development on land that was under water in 1993. This Policy Forum describes the scale of floodplain encroachment across the United States, explores negative impacts of such encroachment, and outlines alternatives that have been proposed and implemented worldwide.